Title IX news out of Florida late last week: a $1.25 million settlement in favor a dismissed female basketball coach.This case flew completely under the radar. News of the substantial settlement was the first we had heard of coach Mary Tappmeyer’s claims of discrimination against the University of North Florida and only because friends-of-the-blog emailed us the press release. Since we have yet to write about it, here is the synopsis of Tappmayer’s case:
She was dismissed from her position a year ago (March 2015). Her contract, which had been set to expire at that time, was not renewed. She had been the only women’s basketball head coach in the program’s history, which began in 1991. She alleged that the university fired her as retaliation for complaining about the inequitable conditions for female student athletes and made claims of sex discrimination as well. The university said she had a losing record and that every complaint about discrimination that Tappmeyer brought forward was investigated. These investigation never found that the coach’s claims had any merit. Complaints included: academic exceptions (to university admissions requirements) for male basketball recruits but not female, a larger operating budget–including travel–on the men’s side, and disparities in training, office, and locker room facilities. She got paid less, but claims the university held her to higher performance standards. Her lawsuit also included allegations that administrators spoke badly of her and her all-female coaching staff to student athletes, athletic department employees and donors and that they impeded her ability to coach and recruit.
So why is this case significant? One, it is a large settlement. This hints at the possibility that the university thought it would not have done better in court, though the statement from the university president stated that they settled to avoid extensive legal fees. And it is a large settlement for a case that got very little national attention and was underway for less than a year. Did the university just throw some money at this to make it go away quickly and quietly? Possibly. More on that theory later.
The second reason why this case deserves some additional analysis is because it shares characteristics with other cases we have seen. Tappmeyer did not report her allegations to the Title IX coordinator because she feared for her job. She went to the president’s office instead where she was assured her position was safe. In other words, she knew that complaining within the department was dangerous for her. This is reminiscent of another Florida institution, Florida Gulf Coast University, where a group of female coaches anonymously sought help from outside the university to file a Title IX complaint about the inequitable treatment.
Sex discrimination rarely stands alone. In allegations about the culture of the department, some of which did not make it into Tappmeyer’s lawsuit, she noted that Athletics Director Lee Moon engaged in racist and homophobic behavior. He did not want LGBT or black athletes recruited. Regarding the latter he was alleged to have said that audiences will not come out for an all-black team and encouraged coaches to recruit from the midwest. He wanted teams with female head coaches to have male assistants on staff, presumably to challenge the idea that the team was coached by lesbians. There are no people of color in head coaching positions on the men’s side. Tappmeyer’s replacement is a black man; he is the only Black person in a head coaching position.
Single axis discrimination is rare. We saw this at Penn State with the case of former women’s basketball coach Rene Portland. The lawsuit by a dismissed player (which also ended in a settlement–terms undisclosed) alleged race, gender, sexual orientation discrimination. Penn State also used the internal investigation method and found no evidence of the race or gender discrimination. There is a lack of understanding about intersectional discrimination, which is part of the reason why allegations are not proven. But it exists and it contributes to the hostile climate in athletics departments.
Another similarity: discernible patterns. In addition to the racist comments and inequitable treatment, the UNF athletics department had a practice of firing female coaches and replacing them with male coaches, a la University of Iowa. Sometimes athletics directors who are in charge when the discrimination occurs are themselves fired often as a measure to demonstrate that the university is taking the claims seriously and attempting to change the offensive and discriminatory culture. Not at UNF where Moon remains in his position and supported by the administration.
This is also happening at Iowa where the university is standing solidly behind AD Gary Barta who, in addition to having his contract renewed, has just won an award for being the best athletic director!! Though the lawsuits are not yet settled at Iowa and it remains to be seen what happens to Barta, the announcement that the National Athletic Collegiate Directors Association chose him for the Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year Award was startling, to say the least. I realize that this is an aside. Perhaps it deserves its own post, but it certainly speaks to the culture that female coaches are dealing with not just at their institutions but at the national level. NACDA thinks that someone who is at the center of several lawsuits and a federal investigation about gender equity is the best athletic director in the country. I might worry about what is happening everywhere else, if I did not know that this award is the epitome of an old white boys club, let’s look out for one another mentality. For a more thorough analysis of situation see this post. While Barta’s recognition certainly seems to contradict some of NACDA’s own criteria, Under Armour’s involvement may be the thing that engenders more outrage about this situation. After all, UA is working very hard to win female athletes and fitness fans away from Nike. The signing of Giselle Bundchen, Lindsay Vonn, and Misty Copeland along with others to star in “inspiring” ad campaigns in the past two years reflects these efforts. Being connected to this award recipient is a major faux pas for this company at this time. Consumers should let them know that.
Back to Tappmeyer’s case and one final point. We like to think that lawsuits and settlements will change attitudes and cultures. While this is possible and we have seen it happen, it is not always a guarantee. I do not see change happening at UNF. Their reliance on internal investigations (versus outside consultants), their support of Moon, and the outright denial of Tappmeyer’s claims alongside the roundabout blaming of her for costing them money suggest that things will move along as they always have. Tappmeyer challenged the culture she encountered, but she could not change it. Maintaining the culture of male and white privilege and power cost UNF $125 million. I think that they are happy to pay that to continue on with business as usual.